Denver: Fast Casual Deliciousness at Park Burger
1890 South Pearl Street Denver CO 80210 (map) and one other location; 720-242-9951; parkburger.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: Expertly cooked juicy patties feature a fantastic crust that really make the burger
Want Fries With That? Regular fries are good, but their sweet potato cousins are truly great
Price: ParkBurger with cheese, $7.25; El Chilango, $7.75; small fries, $2; small sweet potato fries, $2.25; chocolate malt, $4
Notes: Six of the specialty burgers from Park Burgers are also available at Park & Co.
When Park Burger opened its doors for the first time in May 2009, the fast casual burger joint from French Culinary Institute grad Jean-Philippe Failyau (with help from Denver restaurant titan Frank Bonanno) was so overwhelmed with eager burger eaters that they had to shut the place down after two and a half hours.
With that kind of opening, the obvious question is whether the place could possibly live up to the hype. Based on my visit, I'd have to say yes. Need more convincing? Well, in the less than three years since Park Burger opened, a second location has been added; Failyau and Bonanno have opened Park & Co., which includes six burgers from Park Burger on its menu; and the original location, which I visited, recently doubled in size.
Diners have the option of building their own burger or choosing one of eight specialty offerings. Naturally, when given that choice, I went with both. Diners who choose to come up with their own creation have a choice of the standard 1/3-pound patty as well as 1/4-pound and half-pound versions along with veggie, buffalo, and turkey options. The housemade veggie burger, recently selected Denver's best by Westword, had some appeal, but I went with a standard third-pound beef patty topped with Swiss cheese.
Although there's nothing fancy about the fresh beef from Harris Ranch, this well-seasoned, juicy beef, encased in a fantastic crust was outstanding. The cheese and bun were nothing to write home about on their own, but both components were flawless, especially the nicely toasted potato bun.
Requests for doneness are allowed at Park Burger, but I decided to give the default medium a go with some trepidation. It turned out my rare-burger-loving self had nothing to worry about—the griddled patty was immensely flavorful despite being cooked to medium. And did I mention the crust? It really made the burger.
From the Specialty Burgers section of the menu, the El Chilango starts with the same 1/3-pound patty and is covered with cheddar cheese, jalapeños, and some guacamole. This is the burger that did so well at the Denver Burger Bash in 2010, though the AHT Field Agent who wrote about the event found it to be too salty and too spicy. Given how well the El Chilango did at the competition and in satisfyng my taste buds, I think the Field Agent was the unlucky recipient of a dud.
An advantage that thick burgers have is chefs are free to pile a ton of stuff on top and the meat still has a very good shot at shining through. And while a 1/3-pound patty is nothing to sneeze at, it can be tougher for the beef flavor to stand out when particularly flavorful toppings are involved. That wasn't a problem with the El Chilango.
The healthy dose of jalapeños and nice schmear of guacamole did bring a lot of distinct flavors to the burger, but the miracle patty was unfazed. Like the patty in the cheeseburger, this one was cooked to medium, came with a great crust, and was surprisingly juicy. As far as fast casual burgers go, it's tough to find many places that are doing a better job than Park Burger.
The regular fries, cut to a medium thickness, embody the crisp exterior/soft interior ideal. They were well-covered with coarse sea salt, though—and I'm really picking nits here—not exactly bursting with potato flavor. They were very good, just not quite great.
The sweet potato fries, on the other hand, suffered no flaws. Texturally, they were every bit as good as the regular fries, but each individual fry was a sweet potato flavor explosion.
The shakes at Park Burger are made from soft serve ice cream. I don't know if this is related to that fact, but my chocolate malt was one of the sweeter ice cream drinks I've had in some time. But because it was so creamy, which I strongly suspect is related to the use of soft serve, I didn't mind the sweetness one bit. Like everything else I had at Park Burger, I wouldn't change a thing about it.
About the author: Daniel Zemans covers pizza for Slice and burgers for A Hamburger Today in Chicago. When he's not focusing on expanding his waistline, he works as a lawyer on behalf of employees and tenants.